Beth Cato: Why I Joined SFWA

ClockworkCrown_CatoWhen I was a teenager back in the 1990s, I regularly prowled through my mall B. Dalton. Back then, monthly publishing bulletins were set out on the store counter.

The purple-banded bulletin for science fiction and fantasy is where I first learned about SFWA. I don’t remember what authors were mentioned in relation to it, but I was left with an impression that this organization was a big deal and only the best authors could be members.

I desperately wanted to be in those ranks.

I made no secret of the fact that I wanted to be a published novelist, but I didn’t have the confidence to make a real effort. Outside of schoolwork, my stories and novel attempts were written long hand and kept in a binder only I read. I was too fragile to take any kind of rejection, so I made no effort that could garner rejection. In time, I stopped adding to the binder at all. I had a teacher at college sneer at a fantasy novel I was reading–“That’s not a real book!”–and family members who assured me I’d burn in hell if I kept reading and writing about magic. My dream withered and died.

Years passed. I married a Navy sailor. I moved around the country. I had a baby. My husband was deployed, and I was home-bound and desperate to accomplish something other than a diaper change. I needed a goal. I needed to be true to myself. I decided to start reading the fantasy books I had missed for so many years… and to write again.

I daydreamed about future success. I visited the SFWA web page and scanned the member names. That old yearning had never gone away. I wanted to write the kind of top-notch work that would enable me to join.

My initial efforts were timid, but I had to start somewhere. I sent flash fiction stories to for-the-love markets. I received rejections that left me in funks for days. This time around, though, I wasn’t going to give up. As a kid, I always said, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” Okay. I was grown up. Time to write.

It took a few years for my first pro acceptance to arrive, for the sale of “Biding Time” to The Pedestal Magazine. With that email still open, I clicked over to the SFWA site to double-check the membership qualifications. Soon enough, I sent the fee. I was in. I was so proud to be an associate member. I added that fact to all my cover letter biographies and beneath my address on the first page of submissions.

BethCatoI also celebrated by buying a custom license plate for my car: IRWRITR. I was in SFWA. I had a pro sale. I was legit. Now I could announce that fact, via grammar joke, on my little Elantra.

It was a long, agonizing two-year wait to qualify for full membership. By that time, I had an agent and scores of semi-pro publications. Becoming a full member of SFWA meant I achieved that wistful goal I set at age 14. It took almost 20 years, but I had made it.

A year later, and I had a book deal with Harper Voyager as well. The Clockwork Dagger was published in September 2014 and fulfilled that ultimate childhood dream. My second book, The Clockwork Crown, is out in June.

I was proud to join SFWA. I’m still proud. My membership is a big, bold stamp on my bingo card of writerly accomplishments. That’s something I’ll carry with me always.

Beth Cato is the author of The Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy series from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Her website is